Last updated: Easter Sunday, 2009
Note: The first part of this FAQ was derived from a couple of impromptu interviews with Max Nomad. Consider this the Reader’s Digest version of the “E! True Hollywood Story” behind it all — minus the Paparazzi, drug rehab, hookers and mugshots.
This is a living document, subject to updates all the time. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here (or in the Book Submissions Guidelines) then please click here to use the Contact form to ask it.
The story behind BGP:
NOTE: We are NOT affiliated in any way with B&G Publishing or B&G Publishing group.
- What inspired you to start Bohemian Griot Publishing, LLC?
- Okayâ€¦ But what did that have to do with starting BGP and why?
- Since your debut book was published in 2001, how come BGPâ€™s next title didnâ€™t come out until late 2006? What took you so long?
General questions regarding BGP and the way we do things:
- What sets BGP apart from other small presses?
- My name is [blank]. I submitted my manuscript a long time ago and it was rejected. I didnâ€™t see any other books published by BGP outside of the three in your catalog. Can I / Should I submit my manuscript again?
- I checked out the portfolio and only see a few cover designs. Is this all BGP has done? (The ugly truth about Book Cover Design and working with self-published authors)
A: My first real foray into a successful business [partnership] was with iTRiBE Inc., one of the first five Internet Service Providers in southeastern Virginia. From iTRiBE’s beginnings in late 1993, I had a Tour de Force crash course in every aspect of running a small business — everything from helping write the original business plans to starving during the startup phase to managing teams of Designers and Programmers to bad mergers and all the way to keeping the company afloat after it got torpedoed in the Summer of 2000. Surviving the Dot-Com Crash after losing everything was enough of an inspiration.
A: I was getting to that. Anyway, the desperate chaos of iTRiBE’s last days had conjured up something brutally atavistic in the staff, as if we were all acting out passages from Lord of the Flies. Dealing with the daily pain and stress of trying to fight that inevitable crash landing was tough. Many evenings I tried to unwind by going to a nearby bar or restaurant, having a few drinks and then doing some people watching while writing poetry and short stories.
By early 2001 my partners and I had sold iTRiBE’s remaining software assets and clients to a company out in San Diego. We did a cash and stock deal then took the cash and used it to take care of back pay for those employees who stuck around during the last days. Because we received only a fraction of what the company was originally worth, what was once going to allow me to retire a millionaire had shrunk to an amount that would barely affect my tax bracket. I ended up using it to pay off some bills and took a trip to St. Thomas, USVI. While sipping Cruzan Rum and admiring a sunset over Magen’s Bay, I realized a part of getting over the trauma of what I had experienced was going to require me “getting back in the saddle again”. It was during that anonymous twilight that I decided to invest the rest of the money into other business ventures, including Bohemian Griot. Ironically, among the many lessons I had learned from iTRiBE’s corporate attorney, was how to set up different business structures without a lawyer.
The other venture lived a short, creatively brilliant life and died like The Hindenberg — killed due to the economic fallout from 9/11/01 and my working with a team that epitomized all the reasons that we should choose our business partners better than we choose our spouses. And like any good entrepreneur that has learned to survive a major business catastrophe, my accountant and I were able to take the losses and turn them into a great tax-writeoff that I re-invested into BGP, particularly by taking those poems and short stories I had written and turning them into my first book, Midnight Sketches.
A: With my prior business experience and background in Graphic Design, it was pretty easy to set up the business and learn the mechanics of good book production. Unfortunately, after releasing Midnight Sketches I learned the hard way that most of those experiences didn’t apply to successfully marketing and promoting a book or running a publishing company. From 2001 to 2004, as part of our deal I continued working with that company out in San Diego doing web design, telecommuting from Virginia Beach and flying out there several times a year. BGP was my own thing, a sort of life boat that I intended to keep afloat and use as a business venue for publishing books. Since it wasn’t my sole source of income I had the freedom to dedicate those years to studying the publishing industry through books and wisdom shared on email lists. Once the San Diego deal had run its course, I still had BGP going so I added my Graphic Design and Multimedia production services to the business model and set sail on my own. I’m glad I did.
A: The ability to balance the Beauty of the Book with the Brass tacks of Business.
Regardless of my heavy IT background, I’ve got the soul of an Artist. I am an Artist. Creating things is not only what I do, Creativity is also at the core of who I am so I have a much greater understanding of how that passion burns inside. I just happened to learn how to be a businessman, too. Thanks to the freewheeling treachery often found among street hustlers and upper-management in Corporate America, I’ve been burned a few times by bad business deals. As a result I’ve adopted the principle “People before Profit” when it comes to business. This keeps my business deals profitable for everyone involved, keeps my life relatively simple and I wake up every morning with a clear conscience.
When it comes to production, I’m the Lead Graphic Artist handling Book Design and production. I know that everything from concept to layout to printing to promo slicks will be done right — no cutting corners with bootleg cover artwork that belongs on a pizza box or in a 70s Saturday morning cartoon. Interior typesetting and layout is handled with the same quality and care. I believe that commercially-viable books can also be designed to have the same standards of a limited-edition lithographs and graphic novels. The best part about it is that the mainstream publishing industry as we know it is going to hell in many ways. Many of them are scrambling to make a buck by putting out books with the flavor and originality of a pack of Bologna â€“ thinly sliced, digestible, sometimes tasty if you put a little mustard on it, but often it’s as memorable a dinning experience as the last time you ate a Bologna sandwich.
Q: My name is ____________________. I submitted my manuscript a long time ago and it was rejected. I didn’t see any other books published by BGP outside of the three in your catalog. Can I / Should I submit my manuscript again?
A: Short answer — 2009 is the first year that BGP has officially made it known that unsolicited manuscripts are being accepted. There have been other book projects happening behind the scenes but none of them are ready for prime time. Our standards haven’t changed, just the website. If you submitted your manuscript before and we decided to pass on it, if you haven’t made drastic changes to it then it will probably get the same response. Please take a few minutes to review our Book Submissions Guidelines if you haven’t done so and you’re interested in submitting a manuscript.
The Details — Sometime in 2005 I was ready to start working with other authors. Although it was never publicly announced that BGP was accepting unsolicited manuscripts, they started coming in on occasion. Unfortunately, most of them were either poorly-formatted, half-constructed stories from first-time writersÂ or the scribblings from people who were in desperate need for Xanax or Thorazine to come out with a patch. The three (yes, three) decent fiction manuscripts I received were all amalgamations of books and films that had already been done many times over. By December of 2005 I was given the Next Stop manuscript. Although it was pretty rough, it was also a gripping story with a lot of potential.Â I knew I could turn into a book, written by an author that was ready to put in the work with us to get it tight. By December 16th, 2006 — almost a year later — we held the Author’s Release party for that book and the rest was history. Feel free to contact Ivan Sanchez about it (see the A-List links in the right column). Someday when I get around to it I’ll write up an essay on the successes of that first book and post it on this site. Between the death threats, the celebrities, my trips to the Bronx and the rollercoaster ride Next Stop took us on before (and after) we sold the book rights to Simon & Schuster, the story behind the book should be a book unto itself.
There has been at least one other title, The Church Ladies’ Cookbook, a fundraiser I co-published to help a local Women’s Christian group. Although there are other titles BGP still has the option to publish, their manuscripts still aren’t complete, thus not ready for editing or production. These days, if a manuscript isn’t ready I can’t afford to invest my time, money and resources into it nor will I pay other editors to get involved.
A: The cover designs featured in the portfolio don’t represent everything I’ve done. They do, however, represent the cover designs I’ve done that I’ve either had full creative control over and saw them as worthy as being featured. The number of book interior layouts I’ve done outnumber the cover designs but if you’ve seen one well typeset interior you’ve pretty much seen them all.
Candidly speaking, getting into freelance Book Cover Design is tough nut to crack these days. Although the Internet makes it far easier to prosper at in comparison to 10 or 20 years ago, it’s also opened up the competition on a global scale as well. The gains experienced by book printing prices coming down continue to spawn hundreds of thousands of self-published books hitting the market every year. During the Prepress process, out of those authors who have hired me to do the typesetting and layout of their book interior, none of them have ever attempted to force their opinions on me. Things like margins and leading and frontmatter don’t mean anything to them. All they care about is that it “looks like a book” inside, which is fine because in a mainstream publishing situation the author wouldn’t have any input on this either. Unfortunately, when it comes to the cover design there is often a whole different mindset. Half of those same authors suddenly wanted to put on their Art Director’s berets and begin dictating what goes on the cover. This is often problematic because authors don’t know book packaging or marketing design, regardless of what the ego-boost of writing their own book has convinced them to believe. In their quest to have a cover that “matches” their book, most authors will have a tendency to try to get too literal with what is featured on the cover design no matter how cliched or inappropriate it may be.
With all that said, I must confess — over the past couple of years I have been guilty of prostituting my talents out to do some of these ugly cover designs for self-published authors. Originally I was hoping to take some on as portfolio pieces and although I tried to steer them in the right direction with solid design recommendations, most of them were determined to stick with their campy ideas and paying lunch money prices. More than likely all they really cared about was seeing their names in print and being able to claim they did it all from A to Z. The covers made those authors so happy that all the other things that are important to book marketing and promotion didn’t matter to them. They would probably die happy if they sold over 500 units. That’s not how real book packaging works, thus the reason why I most of them aren’t in my portfolio. Sometimes those ugly covers come back to haunt me — even if I didn’t do them.
For example, one time I was giving a free consultation to a self-published author regarding his book. The novel was about yet another love triangle, labeled Urban Fiction by the author probably because he was Black and the characters in his book were Ghetto-Fabulous and happened to be Black. The cover was a bit extreme even for so-called Urban Fiction; it had three women on the cover, all built like porn stars in various states of undress or exposing part of a thong. It looked like it was designed by someone who does glossy promotional fliers for Atlanta strip clubs. Although I can always appreciate the beauty of the female form, I had to tell the author that the cover needed to be redone because it was probably going to be the kiss of death for his book. He took slight offense at first because he specifically “designed” it himself and had a photographer and designer put it together. The author had no clue what “demographics” meant nor how it figured into book cover design concepts; he was the assistant manager of a warehouse for a furniture store. When I explained that most of his audience was probably going to be females 18 to 34, African-American, then Latino, White, and etc, he appreciated that — but still refused to change the cover because he liked the design and had already paid two of the three models. No matter how much I tried to explain that most of his target market would probably be turned off by the cover and used examples of bestsellers in the genre to show the difference, somehow he remained convinced that he knew better. This often happens with self-published authors — they start to feel the rush of seeing it all come together and the book becomes their baby, no matter how f*cked up the package might be. The last thing I’d heard was that the author spent about $2,000 dollars on his book release party and, according to one of the author’s in-laws that helped pay for the printing, the author has yet to sell enough units to break even. For the record, that release party happened in late June of 2005.
Unlike jackleg graphic designers (amateurs who are often little more than software jockeys with no training or background), professional graphic designers will take the time to get to know a book and process the elements of its story, particularly its literary symbols. It these symbols and colors that tend to act as the seeds for good cover ideas. This is why most mainstream and independent publishers give their authors little or no input on cover design — because it is rare to find an author who know enough about design and marketing to think this way.
(More to come later)